Plays for New Audiences is excited to welcome playwright, Ashley Griffin, to the PNA catalogue! To celebrate, we sat down with Ashley to learn more about her career, upcoming work, and inspiration for the 4 new large-cast plays that are joining the catalogue.
Ashley Griffin is a Broadway writer/performer. As a writer, her work has been produced/developed at New World Stages, Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights Horizons, A.R.T. and more. Ashley won the WellLife Network Award and a county commendation for her off-Broadway play Trial (directed by Lori Petty at the American Theatre of Actors, NYC) and has been nominated for five NYIT Awards across multiple categories. She is the first person in history to be nominated for a major award for both playing and directing Hamlet for a theatrical production. Her debut novel The Spindle was recently released.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
My favorite thing in the whole world has always been telling stories. The one big rule I had as a child was that I wasn’t allowed to put on plays in the living room before 7am. I started performing professionally when I was five years old and I wrote my first musical when I was eight for my third grade class to put on (it was called The Princess, the Witch and the Golden Butterfly). My dream was to work on Broadway, so I went to New York to go to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for college and after that I worked very hard to have a career as a performer and writer on Broadway – which is what I do now! When I was in college my nickname (that the teachers gave me) was Hermione Granger – I love learning and I’m really passionate about what I do. I think stories can speak directly to our hearts about the things that matter the most, that are the most true. Neil Gaiman has a great quote:
“Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Some fun facts about me:
- I love fairy tales and have read just about every version and every book published about them. I also love the history of how fairy tales were collected and written.
- I grew up in Los Angeles and I love the ocean! I’ve even performed as a professional mermaid…
- I was in the Star Trek magazine when I was eight…
- I love cooking and gardening and anything to do with nature.
- I’m synesthetic – synesthesia is a way some people’s brain works where different senses work together, there are lots of different kinds – I have over twenty! To me, words have physical sensations, letters and numbers have colors, and lots of other things that I sometimes use when I’m writing.
PNA will be licensing your large-cast adaptations of A Little Princess, The Jungle Book, The Snow Queen, and an original piece- Ever After. Why do you think these stories are still important, relevant, and impactful to audiences today?
All of these particular pieces are based, in some way, off of fairy tales and stories that people have loved for a long time. But sometimes when something has been in the public consciousness for a long time it’s easy to forget what made it so special, unique and meaningful – so I think it’s always wonderful to bring them back out with a fresh eye and explore them again. The best stories are ones we tell over and over. The stories I’ve adapted have very human, even mythic themes – how do we survive, not just physically, but emotionally, after great tragedy and loss? How do we find our place in the world? How does friendship survive the trials and tribulations of life? I think these are all important, moving themes that I’m so excited for artists to take out and explore!
How did you get started in theatre?
I was, quite literally, born wanting to work in the theater. I was obsessed with reading from a very early age, and before I could write on my own I would make anyone nearby sit down and help me transcribe the stories in my head. My favorite thing to do was to put on shows in the living room – I had a wonderful dress up box and would spend hours with my mom, friends, babysitters putting on very elaborate, well thought out productions. I was fortunate that I grew up in Los Angeles so there were a lot of performing opportunities. When I was really little my mom put me in a kids acting class because she desperately needed a break! I felt like I found my community! I started begging to go out on auditions from practically the moment I could talk, and my mom figured out how to make that happen – that’s how I started doing it professionally.
But my mom has a great story about how she first knew I was going to be a performer…
When I was about two, I used to stand in front of our home with my index finger out, and I would say the same thing in baby talk with the same inflections and the same gestures over, and over and over again. Finally she asked me what I was doing. I said: “The Blue Fairy monologue from Pinocchio.” (Where I’d heard the word “monologue” we have no idea…) My mom asked me what I meant and I said: “I’ll show you!” I took her inside and put on Pinocchio. I skipped to the part where the Blue Fairy says: “Now Pinocchio, you prove yourself brave, truthful…” and I was doing the exact same moves (my index finger was my wand) and making the exact same vocal inflections… just in baby talk.
What are you most excited about for your work to be part of the Plays for New Audiences catalogue?
Some of my best memories are of doing plays as a child/teenager. I remember when I was in elementary school I started a lunchtime drama club so I could teach my friends what I was learning from the productions I was doing and theatrical education I was getting. I scoured the library looking for plays we might be able to perform. I only found one, and that’s actually one of the reasons I started writing plays of my own in earnest.
I’m so excited that pieces of mine will be available to theaters, schools and young people around the world – providing a means for them to do what I was doing at their age. I hope no one will experience what I did and come up (practically) empty when searching for a good play to perform. And I hope the performance of my plays can be a part of the wonderful memories and experiences of lots of young people, the way performing when I was young created so many wonderful memories and experiences for me. I also believe that all plays, regardless of their age demographic, should be GOOD plays, and sadly I’ve found that that’s not always the case. I hope my plays can be challenging, worthwhile productions for the edification of both performers and audiences of all ages.
What is next for you? What should we keep an eye out for?
I just had my first novel, The Spindle, published, and another novel of mine, Blank Paige, will be out in 2023. I have two shows that are supposed to be going up off-Broadway next year (they’ve been delayed by the pandemic and I’m still waiting to find out specifics on dates, etc.) Those are shows that I will be in and I also wrote. I also have some other fun projects in the works!
Where can audiences find out more about you and follow your work?
The best place to go is my website: www.ashleygriffinofficial.com. I’m also on social media:
YouTube/Facebook: Ashley Griffin